Queer Question Time - The Debate
Publish Date: 03/10/2011
On Sunday October 2nd, in what was a first for LGB&T politics, The Lesbian & Gay Foundation’s Community Resource Centre played host to a special event which brought together LGB&T leads of the three main political parties for the first time ever.
The event was held to give the LGB&T community an opportunity to put the questions that matter most to them to the three main parties representatives.
Adrian Trett (Liberal Democrat), James Asser (Labour), Matthew Sephton (Conservative) were joined on the panel by special guest Claire Mooney – respected singer, songwriter and radio presenter.
Paul Martin OBE, Chief Executive of the Lesbian & Gay Foundation chaired the session which was also recorded by Gaydio who will be broadcasting an edited version of the discussion.
Ahead of the debate many questions had been submitted from members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities and the panel all had a chance to put forward their views, afterwards the audience also had a chance to reply with their thoughts and comments to the panel.
Many tweeters also fed into the debate informing much of the two hour discussion.
What next for LGB&T equality?
Claire Mooney kicked off by highlighting that the struggle for equality was endless and that it was important that LGB&T people looked after their rights and kept an eye on legislation. She said working towards full gay marriage was a priority and stressed the affects of the cuts on LGB&T people and communities.
Matthew Sephton agreed that the next big step would be full marriage equality and that he believed the Prime Minister would push for this. Throughout the debate Sephton made reference to David Cameron’s first major speech as Conservative Leader in 2006 when he welcomed Civil Partnerships.
Another hot topic in the room was the gay blood ban. “What we have now is progression” he added “but it is important to keep the situation under review, guided by medical evidence“.
International rights were something that he believed the UK could have a positive influence in when changing attitudes towards LGB&T people and passing supportive legislation in other countries.
James Asser mentioned that discussing single issues often can obscure other important issues, but that his number one priority would be to tackle homophobia and bullying in schools while keeping an eye on a broad range of topics.
Adrian Trett also listed equal marriage, the blood ban and international rights, particularly around LGB&T asylum and immigration as important issues at the moment, but also highlighted the need to remember that the current coalition government are the first to ever bring forward a transgender action plan.
From the audience Lisa Power of Terrence Higgins Trust added to the discussion of the blood ban and said it was “vital for gay equality to reduce the risk of men who have sex with men acquiring HIV” and that sexual health should be high on the agenda.
Another audience member said that as a bisexual man he found it difficult to understand the new legislation and wanted to ensure that more was done to promote an online petition. Although the lifetime ban has been reduced to a year for men who have sex with men 6,000 people have already signed the petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/301
Claire Mooney asked why there was a need for the current government consultation on gay marriage, while James Asser expressed concern that the consultation had been delayed twice already and was now scheduled to take place in March 2012. ‘Will there be further delays and will there be time to get legislation put forward in the current parliament?’
Paul Martin as Chair wanted to make it clear to everyone that the discussion should be about full gay civil marriage and not civil partnerships in religious settings.
Matthew Sephton said that if the government’s consultation took place in March 2012 as planned then there should be no reason why the issue does not progress this term.
James Asser pointed out that people often underestimate how much opposition there is to same sex marriage and that lobbying amongst the religious right wing was particularly powerful.
There was a risk that supporters may think same sex marriage is inevitable, but without lobbying MP’s and The House of Lords it still may never get passed as legislation.
The question to the audience was then put ‘Is Same Sex Marriage the main issue people are concerned about?’
An audience member said that they believed LGB&T mental health issues were of particular concern.
Matthew Sephton said that ensuring local PCT’s prioritised mental health and understood the problems in their local area was vital, while Adrian Trett added that local authorities should be treating LGB&T mental health issues much more seriously than they do at present.
Another audience member made the point that the cuts were not targeted at any one community more than another.
James Asser responded by saying that there is clear evidence that LGB&T peoples’ needs are not being addressed and everyone cannot be treated the same because people are different.
Claire Mooney put forward the suggestion that much of the LGB&T community is hidden so their needs cannot be addressed.
Do politicians have LGB&T Issues in their hearts?
Claire said that she wasn’t convinced that many people that are not LGB&T think about these issues and perhaps they forget that LGB&T people are voters and tax payers too.
Matthew said that he had met David Cameron often and that he felt the Prime Minister is always keen to understand what is happening as are many MP’s about LGB&T issues.
All three of the LGB&T leads need to keep their parties informed about these issues Matthew said he was delighted with the support that he had received from the current Conservative party.
James highlighted the need to educate the politicians on these issues and for LGBTLabour - Yvette Cooper - the current Shadow Home Secretary gets it , he added but some do not.
Adrian said the Liberal Democrats “has got it since the 1970’s (then The Liberal Party) but there are still some Tory MEP’s that don’t get it. Legislation throughout Europe is just a important as UK legislation”.
Is LGB&T representation in politics important?
Matthew: "At the last election there were more openly gay Conservative MP’s voted in than ever before (12) which he said was more than Labour (7) and Lib Dems (4) put together."
James: "It’s still not good enough though. Especially for women. We have 3 out gay women and Parliament is still very unrepresentative of the population as a whole. There is a risk that parties may feel that progress has been made on LGBT issues and may not feel the need to keep discussing sexual orientation."
Claire:" Let’s not forget sexism exists too but women make up 52% of the population."
An audience member referred to the issue of sexuality being used in a negative way during campaigning.
Stuart Andrew Conservative MP for Pudsey said that he did not want to be identified as a gay MP but merely as an MP that happens to be gay.
The Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May has called for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped, less than a fortnight after Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said it was "here to stay”.
The act enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law and there seemed some confusion about what the Human Rights Act actually meant and where it came from.
However, Matthew Sephton said that he was against being told what to do by Europe, while Adrian Trett said he disagreed entirely and that the Human Rights Act was nothing to do with Europe.
Claire summed up the general confusion saying she was aware that she ‘had rights but not as many as a heterosexual person‘.
How do spending cuts affect people’s abilities to defend their Human Rights?
Claire acknowledged that this audience question was a good point and agreed that it was a case of great to have laws that protect LGB&T people, but not so great if people couldn’t enforce them.
Matthew mentioned that everyone was affected by the savings that had to be made in government spending to which James added that ‘some people are more affected by the cuts than others‘.
‘How can cuts be allowed to affect Human Rights?’ One audience member asked while another highlighted that there is often a hierarchy when it comes to human rights issues and that often LGB&T people are at the bottom of this hierarchy.
Why aren’t the parties pushing forward with anti-bullying as a priority?
Adrian Trett acknowledged that the coalition government have indeed launched a campaign against LGBT bullying in schools and sport. Matthew Sephton mentioned the recent Education White Paper which suggested that LGBT groups should be allowed to go into schools to tackle the issue of homophobic bullying.
How should our communities deal with issues of LGBT suicides and self harm in a time of spending cuts?
Adrian shared that he was form a rural area and that he had been bullied at school and that the issue of homophobic bullying needed to be addressed in these rural areas as well as in cities.
Matthew said in his a experience as a teacher he thinks the education system is the best way to tackle bullying, and in the schools he has worked in that have tackled it - it does not go on to become an issue once it has been tackled.
James added the problem that while more people may be coming out and at a younger age more people are as a result being bullied because of their sexual orientation.
It was also mentioned form the audience by Jen Yockney from Biphoria that the issue of biphobia should not be forgotten, and that often bullying carries on outside the school and cyber bullying is a real issue too for many LGB&T young people.
What support can be given to teachers?
Matt said that he found it difficult as a gay man to tackle homophobic bullying in school at first and James added that it was important to help teachers be open about their own sexual orientation.
At this point an audience member shared their own experiences of homophobia at school and the difficulty they were having at home also. ‘Where do you go for support if you are facing bullying at school and you aren’t getting support from your family? If you live in a rural area and there are no gay groups and everyone is scared to talk about homophobia?’
What is being done about LGBT Asylum cases?
Adrian admitted that he was not happy about the regular cases of LGB&T people who face deportation after seeking asylum in the UK because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, when fleeing a country where they will be persecuted for being LGB or T. ‘It is something that both coalition parties agree on and such deportations should not be happening and each and every one needs to be challenged.’
James acknowledged that the Asylum system is ‘rotten’ and all the parties are not good at dealing with this issue.
Chair Paul Martin asked the panel one final question: What about long term LGB&T equality?
James: “Ultimately we shouldn’t have to campaign for equality and justice it should be there already. Ending prejudice has to be the end game.”
Matthew: “It shouldn’t matter what your sexual orientation is and assumptions should not be made that everyone is heterosexual.”
Adrian: “Internationally we have some way to go and we have to help and educate other countries that do not have the same rights for their LGB&T communities as we do. We have to lead.”
Claire: “Every right we have has been hard fought and hard won and we have to be vigilant. The LGB&T community is very diverse and we all need a better understanding of it.”
In summary there was largely a lot of agreement by the panel on the way forward for LGB&T issues and acknowledgement that all the major parties have their own inner struggles to make sure they are meeting the needs of LGB&T communities.
It was acknowledged by the audience and The Chair that each LGB&T lead, whatever their differences does indeed work hard at taking forward lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans issues to their respective parties, and not only should they be given credit for this but that all of us in the LGB&T community should be making sure we lobby our MP’s and elected officials to hear our concerns and understand our issues.
The Lesbian & Gay Foundation would like to thank everyone who took part in the debate both in person and on twitter and we will keep you posted on when the edited highlights will be broadcast on Gaydio